OPINION

The only way is forward

The decisions that the government will take in 2010 and the reactions that these will bring will determine the future of the country for many years. The choice is not between two paths – an easy one and a hard one – because we can expect only hardships. The choice is whether we will remain frozen or whether we will make an effort to escape our fate. The sluggish, shortsighted political and union elite have driven Greece into the swamp, where we consume more than we produce, we borrow more than we can repay, where we grow old without having children, where rule of law and justice have become playthings of those who are strong or organized. All this must end. Our economic model has collapsed and, through increasing unemployment, the very fabric of our society is at risk. Measures must be taken for our country to regain its credibility with international organizations and in the markets. The viability of the social security system must be ensured, as this problem alone is capable of sinking the country. Credibility and viability, though, can be achieved only if our politicians show the guts that they have not yet shown. The prevailing mentality still sees the state as being capable of guaranteeing a rich life for all, as long as those in government were willing to spread the wealth around. If this was ever possible it surely is not now – the wasting of public money and the glut of consumer loans now force us to pay for ever more expensive new loans in order to meet our obligations. We are starting the new year wondering where we will find money – and at what cost? – to cover our immediate needs. Successive governments overloaded the public administration with an excessive number of employees, who are not evaluated and do not fear dismissal. So as the public sector becomes ever more expensive it becomes incapable of producing, no matter how hard any conscientious employees may try. This is Greece’s tragedy: whoever wants to create, to offer, finds insurmountable obstacles, because of the many years of neglect at every level. This applies in the public sector, at universities, social security funds, local authorities, town-planning offices and everywhere we look. Until now, governments would tell the people: «You don’t want change? OK, you’ll see what will happen to you.» Now we see. In the case of the social security system, the fear of political cost on the part of governments, and the absolute refusal of unions to discuss any reforms has resulted in a national crime. If the system is left alone, it will collapse in a couple of years and no one will have a pension – neither those who are already on pension nor those who are working to pay for the pensioners’ benefits. Most politicians and unionists, however, appear to be struggling over a world that exists only in their imaginations. Everyone wants a perfect solution, the ideal, and few show any interest in the present dangers that undermine the system and the economy as a whole. Perhaps there is a way that will combine our ideals with the necessary changes that will make our country more productive. Greece still has huge reserves of human resources and natural beauty and can make the leap into the future. Our choices are not only between spending cuts and revenue increases: We must imagine a society which will make the best use of the country and its people – with all their peculiarities and difficulties. We can look for development without continuing on the present course of waste and injustice. As long as we can imagine ways to do this. For any reform to succeed, we must focus on a vision of a better Greece – to win the people’s confidence, to persuade them that the sacrifices are worth it, that they will lead to development, prosperity and greater justice. Then the parties and unions will no longer be able to hide. They will have to clarify whether they are interested in dealing with real challenges or whether the only thing they’re interested in is a retreat toward a nonexistent past or remaining fixated on a dead-end present.